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TeenLaptopAccess to technology means solicitations to try drugs are no longer confined to school yards and parties. Ninety-two percent of teens go online daily,Pew Research Center reports, and social networks provide myriad opportunities for your teen to be exposed to nicotine, alcohol, marijuana and other controlled substances. A study conducted in 2014 by the Journal of Medical Internet Research concluded young people are especially responsive to influences via social media and often establish substance abuse habits during these formative years.

For teens who already struggle with substance abuse, social networking may prevent them from recovering. A 2012 study of teens receiving substance abuse treatment at a behavioral health services center found 66 percent reported that drug-related content on social networking sites made them want to use drugs, as reported by Psychiatric Times. With Pew Research Center finding 71 percent of teens use more than one social networking site, it’s vital for parents to monitor their teens’ social media behavior, while also giving children the ability for self-exploration and personal growth. Here are ways to be proactive without being overbearing.

Create a Digital Contract

Determining when your teen is ready for social media is dictated both by your comfort and by social network guidelines, since most social networks don’t allow users younger than 13. Before your children get online, discuss what their goals are with the networks, and run through scenarios they may encounter that would have you concerned. Talk with them about how you want them to handle those situations and set up guidelines for what they need to keep you aware of. The Family Online Safety Institute suggests visiting drug abuse websites with your teens so they are aware of the dangers of drugs. You could also speak with a parent specialist at 1-855-DRUGFREE to get tips for talking with your teens about drugs before they enter the online sphere.

Make sure your expectations are clearly outlined by creating a digital contract you and your teen understand, with consequences for breaking guidelines. Explain to your teen just like you get to know their offline friends, you also want to get to know their online contacts. Pew Research Center reports the average teen on Facebook has 145 friends, which means lots of opportunities for your teen to learn about drugs via photos, articles and messages their friends share.

Keep your teen’s computer in a central location in the house to keep their interactions open, and determine whether they’ll have access to their mobile phone only when they’re away from you to use in emergencies, and if you’ll have control of it at home. Consider requiring approval for all mobile device applications your teen downloads, since applications such as Snapchat destroy messages after a certain amount of time and prevent you from being aware of what it being discussed. The Dish Insider’s Guide suggests constantly evolving your guidelines based on your teen’s age and level of responsibility; while strict monitoring may work for you and your teen during the early teen years, an older teen may insist communication between them and their significant other or best friend are off-limits. Transparency and clear expectations are key to maintaining trust between you and your teen.

Tools for Parents

If discussing your teen’s social media usage isn’t enough to assuage your concerns, there are technological tools that can help you monitor and control what your teen is exposed to. A program such as NetNanny filters offensive material, gives you access to parental controls on your teen’s device, sends you email alerts when your teen visits inappropriate sites and enables you to monitor your teen’s Facebook posts and chats. For mobile devices, applications such as My Mobile Watchdog can bring you peace of mind and allow you to address concerns based on your teen’s interactions.

Learn about the technologies your teen has access to, since hidden dangers may fall in the realm of video game devices with Web browsers or in online games your teen may be playing with chat functionality. Delve into the parental control capabilities of the devices your teen is using, and establish usage boundaries and expectations on how your teen will use their devices and social media.

In all your communications with your teens, talk to them from a source of empathy and caring. Tell them you have their health and best interests in mind. Encourage them to talk with you about whatever questions they have, and make drug education something you and your teen work on together.

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Disclosure:  We do not endorse or promote any digital products, apps or services.  This article is for educational purposes only.

If you believe your teen is struggling with Internet addiction or substance abuse, and you have exhausted your local resources for help, contact us for options on therapeutic boarding schools. These have been extremely successful when parent’s have reached their wit’s end at home.

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